Linked by Eugenia Loli on Mon 21st Mar 2005 11:22 UTC
Linux 2003 was the year with Gentoo written all over it in the Linux universe. Last year was Ubuntu's & MEPIS'. I believe that Arch Linux's year is the current one. Read more for a comparison of Arch to existing distributions, and why we think it rocks and where we think it still requires some work.
Permalink for comment
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
Tribes
by Quag7 on Mon 21st Mar 2005 18:29 UTC

I'm not sure how apt-get is difficult (though maybe if I had some intractable problem I'd think differently). Sometimes I'll do an apt-get upgrade or apt-get dist-upgrade and something will fail, but generally just running the command again will fix problems (In fact I think that's always done it. I run stable on a server at work and testing at home on one of my machines). I've just never had any problem with Debian though I don't use X on it so I can't comment about that (or Gnome or KDE on Debian). As far as everything else goes though, I really like Debian though I don't spend tons of time maintaining it. Which is probably a testament as to why I like it.

Gentoo tends to have more problems but that is because I am a promiscuous installer of masked packages. Gentoo is sort of the Studio 54 of distros. Hard to get into initially (especially if you're inexperienced with Linux), but then full of dangerous temptations (You don't have to bury your nose into the temptations and inhale but some of us don't have much willpower). I find it worth it because I know it pretty well and it would be a whole bunch of no-fun to switch. (As a side note, I'd be curious to see the percentage breakdown of how many Gentoo users use the GRP, as well as how many start at stage 2 or 3. I always compile from stage 1, out of habit I suppose).

I mean, that's really what it's all about for most people, especially those who have used something for awhile and no longer find any novelty in trying new distros every few months (I'm not slagging people who do; without them there'd be no reviews, news, comparative criticism, etc. - It just doesn't hold any attraction for me anymore. Though I do always read reviews of those who do try a lot of distros anyway to hear what peoples opinions are.) You can use a distro with problems and continue to use it because you know it the best and know how to reconfigure things, install things, administer things.

I find it kind of hard to believe there'd be any kind of mass exodus from any well established distribution (Slackware, Debian) for a few reasons. First, it's not just about which distro is functionally better, that drives people to one or another. Most distributions are a bunch of trade-offs anyway, having negatives and positives. The negatives on one may matter to you but not to someone else who considers them a small nuisance or even a strength. The endless arguments about Debian's crustiness (as if there is no testing branch - I have never understood why this debate even occurs; just run the testing branch if things are too old for you - I do, on one of the boxes anyway) are a good example. If you run a server, you probably love the ultraconservatism. If you want the latest and greatest desktop gizmos, you don't. It will take you a minute to switch to a less conservative branch.

Second, and this site is a better example of this than any other I can think of, distribution choice is tribal. There is a weird emotional element for a large number of people, as regards their distribution of choice. This is partially a result of the psychological need to defend one's own choices (which comes off as "defensiveness") but more significantly, we forget sometimes about how much community can matter to people - the human element, basically. Gentoo is the example I'm most familiar with - the personalities on the forums and so on. The Gentoo community has been of great help to me and will no doubt be in the future, and that counts for a lot. There is an understanding that Gentoo is a different way of doing things from most distros, so cluelessness is a little expected, especially from new users. Similarly, it seems a lot of what is driving Ubuntu's popularity (haven't tried it, either) is this really positive vibe from the community there.

Slackware, which I've never used, has a dedicated community which is obvious even to outsiders. I think this may be where Richard Stallman comes in. Sure, many people hate him, or are...let's say...annoyed with the GPL. But the thrust of all of his ideas about free software is rooted in human community, which is often missed. I've always liked the guy even when I disagreed with him because he's never forgotten that humans use computers for human purposes.

The communities you see that spring up around Linux distributions (and the BSDs, GPL or not) are an example of this same current. This may be counterintuitive when thinking about something cold and digital like technology, until you consider what ends (human) technology serves. Technology is developed by human minds, and used by human minds, so there will always be a human element. When you add in the fact that everything is free, you have to bring human values into that.

So many of the more emotional responses you see when their distribution is attacked is a result of one's own "tribe" being slagged - even if it's a legitimate technical criticism. I'm sure there are many people out there who wish that the discussion could just be around technical issues - virtues and deficiencies - but it never has been just about that, not with Linux anyway, and I predict it never will be.

Frankly I'm glad for that because there's an upside to it, and that is that people want to continue contributing, for free, to their tribe and community. I'm not just talking about developers, but the patient users who spend a lot of time trying to help others fix their problems, answer questions, write howtos. People who write documentation, articles, etc. People who hang out on IRC to help.

I don't have any particular reason to try Arch because I'm not dissatisfied with what I'm using. I hope that Arch develops a robust and helpful community, (if it hasn't done that already - it may have). It will ensure that it survives and improves.

Lastly, you know, if next year I am somehow forced to use Arch, I'll figure it out if I have to, and probably get used to it. It's just Linux.

I will say this though, and this is probably not an audience this largely applies to: Any person who uses Linux extensively - more than an hour a day - should learn to:

(*) Disable unneeded services.
(*) Compile a kernel.

#1 is trivial, no matter how much of a beginner you are, and frankly #2 is a lot easier than those who have never done it, think it is (I really like the Debian make-kpkg way of doing this, incidentally - just my own opinion).

What I would like to see to facilitate this is better documentation for kernel modules. There's still stuff in the kernel that I have problems understanding. Not just what a module does but how it can affect real-life performance, and what audiences could use it and how. The help for each module is, say, 95% effective of telling me whether I really need it or not but I'd like more complete information, written for users. It could also be that there is such a database of information and I just don't know where it is.